Showing posts from March, 2012

from 'traditional' to 'digital' history

Amanda Goodrich gave a paper on the meaning of aristocracy at the C18 Britain seminar at the IHR yesterday. She explored text-mining various sources (British Library 19th century newspapers, Eighteenth Century Collections Online, House of Commons Parliamentary Papers) and using other digital resources such as Google ngram viewer to chart the use of the word 'aristocracy' in eighteenth and nineteenth-century print.

Two points emerged from the paper, which related more to methods rather than content:

1. using new digitised sources and databases as a 'layperson'. 
Amanda (and indeed I) researched and wrote a PhD thesis back in the days before digitised sources. The old way of calling up books and pamphlets in the British and Bodleian libraries, trawling through card catalogues in public libraries and local studies centres, transcribing text, cross-referencing using notecards and folders and post-its: all these are the main methods of doing text-based research.

Now we have…

Locating the Past: part III

Finally, Tim Hitchcock of the University of Hertfordshire gave the plenary lecture, 'Place and the Intellectual Politics of the Past'.

It was a lecture of two halves. First, he lamented the lack of collaboration of historians and geographers, who have been divided by the STEM vs arts fragmentation encouraged by universities and funding bodies. He reflected on the 'spatial turn' currently en vogue among historians, which he rightly suggested was a casual rapprochment with geography that was motivated by current academic fashions rather than a genuine desire to connect methods.

The 'spatial turn', as I have commented elsewhere, is in my view another extension of the cultural turn. It has a valuable emphasis on the symbolic and representative elements of space, but cannot provide a complete answer to the wider structures influencing historical action. Principally, it disregards the importance of place (as defined by custom, law, belonging, memory) in society and t…

Locating the Past, part II

My review of 'Locating the Past' at the IHR, 29 February, continued...

David Thomas, Director of technology at the National Archives explained some of the ways in which TNA is digitising their most popular maps. Nothing particularly radical there, but sorely needed.

Panel 2: Applications

Ian Gregory of Lancaster University,  Richard Coates of UWE, and Nigel Walford of Kingston University showed us how GIS is transforming their research.

Gregory's paper was the most interesting for me, and it dealt with some of the issues raised earlier by Humphrey Southall about geo-semantics. Spatial Humanities: Text, GIS, Places is an ERC funded project seeking to develop a GIS tool for text, amongst other aims.

The pilot project was Mapping the Lakes which data mined the text of the journeys of the Romantics Gray and Coleridge to map their emotional response to the landscapes of Cumbria. Colin Jones raised a query about the issue of literary genre and fictional licence with regard to this…

Locating the Past, the Gerald Aylmer seminar at the IHR, 29 Feb 2012, part I

I attended the Gerald Aylmer seminar day at the Institute of Historical Research on 29 February, which had the theme of 'Locating the Past'. It was a stimulating and exciting day showcasing different ways in which historians, geographers, archivists and, for want of a better term, pioneers in social media for community histories, were using GIS and other technologies. It was definitely a forward-looking event, highlighting the great possibilities offered by mapping historical data of all kinds, but also indicated the potential problems and tensions with what's going on at the moment.

Humphrey Southall

Humphrey Southall began with a whizz-through overview of the basics of GIS and its underlying principles.

His main argument revolved around the way in which geographers and historical geographers, using current GIS software, are often confined to a
geo-spatial definition of geography = maps and space
However, historians are generally most interested in the geo-semantic defin…